March 28, 2012

More oranges…

It seems that I can’t get enough of these orange cakes.  I know that it was just last week that I shared with you an Orange Cake recipe, but I can’t move on from this chapter without sharing with you yet another delectable orange cake, this time accompanied by good gummy cranberries

I made the Orange-Cranberry Cake for the first time a few Saturdays ago and planned on taking it to a dinner party.  To my surprise and sheer dismay it didn’t come out as I expected.  In fact, it was a total disaster!  It wasn’t that the cake wasn’t good; don’t get me wrong.  On the contrary, it was light, airy and fluffy, and just melted in your mouth.   The cake was citrusy and utterly decadent, while those bits of dried cranberries floating in a sea of orange dough were colorful and visually stunning.  It was great if you overlooked the fact that you had to eat half of the cake from the platter and the other half from the bundt cake pan.  Yes, it wasn’t at all presentable.  It got stuck to the pan and completely fell apart.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was so disappointed and felt like a lousy, mediocre baker.  

It wasn’t that this recipe was dauntingly complex and hard to make.  It was as simple as 1, 2, 3, but I made a basic mistake.  And I even thought about it as I was generously coating my pan with nonstick vegetable spray.  I was thinking that I should probably just generously butter and flour the pan.  But, no, I went ahead with the cooking spray.  What I should have done was to listen to that tiny voice in my head whispering to use plain old butter and flour.  So, after the cake calamity, I didn’t have time to make another cake before our dinner, and we ended up taking wine.  Not at all the result I had envisioned and definitely far from my true potential. 

Last week, I decided that it was time to try my luck again with the orange-cranberry cake.  It was just too damn scrumptious to give up on it.  This time, however, no baking spray in sight just butter and flour to coat the pan.  And, guess what – it worked out beautifully!  It was a delight watching the cake pulling away from the pan while it was cooling ever so slightly.  I just knew it would come out of the pan easily and look like a million bucks.  And it did.  Sometimes, second time’s the charm!

Orange-Cranberry Cake
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Best Desserts (Spring 2012)

Serves: 12+ servings


·         ¾ cup butter, at room temperature; plus more to coat the bundt pan
·         1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more to coat the pan
·         3 eggs, at room temperature
·         1 teaspoon baking powder
·         ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
·         ¾ cup granulated sugar
·         ¼ cup orange juice
·         Finely shredded peel from 1 orange
·         ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
·         ½ cup dried cranberries, finely snipped
·         1/3 cup granulated sugar
·         ¼ cup water
·         2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
·         2 Tablespoons agave nectar
·         ½ cup orange juice


Preheat oven to 325°F.  Generously butter and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.  Set aside. 

In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and nutmeg.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric hand mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  Gradually add the ¾ cup granulated sugar, beating on medium speed about 5 minutes or until light and fluffy.

Stir in orange juice, orange peel, and vanilla extract.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low to medium speed for 1 minute after each addition and scraping side of bowl frequently.  Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed just until combined.  Stir in dried cranberries. 

Pour batter into the prepared pan, spreading evenly.  Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool completely.  Generously pick top and side of cake with a fork.  

For the syrup:

In a medium saucepan combine the 1/3 cup granulated sugar, the water, brown sugar, and agave nectar.  Cook and stir over medium heat until bubbly and most of the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat.  Stir in orange juice; cool slightly.  Spoon or brush syrup over top and side of cake. 

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

March 20, 2012


I can’t believe that it’s March already and that winter has gone by (and I mean that in a positive way, although there wasn’t much to complain about this winter to be honest), that spring is in the air (even summer if you look at the temperatures), and that we haven’t talked about oranges yet!!!  You may ask yourselves what’s so special about oranges.  Well, here’s an interesting fact – did you know that all oranges are actually berries?!  If you knew, good for you!  I didn’t have a clue, so I have to say that I’m happy to have learnt something new. 

Let me tell you more interesting facts about oranges.  Clementines, which are the smallest mandarin oranges, are seedless.  And it’s a miraculous thing if you happen to find a clementine with seeds because it means that hardworking bees were trying to cross-pollinate clementines with other orange varieties.  How cool is that?  In addition, the maroon-tinged flesh of blood oranges comes from the presence of anthocyanins-pigments that develop only when nights are cool and long, such as in the fall.  There are three varietals of blood oranges – the deeply colored Moro, the partially pigmented Tarocco, and the ruby-streaked Sanguinello – all of which are practically mutations of the sweet orange (Better Homes and Gardens Fall Baking, Fall 2011).     

Although, in the United States oranges are basically available year-round, in Romania, oranges are prevalent in the winter time.  Of course, the widely popular European supermarkets and hypermarkets are changing that and oranges are starting to become available year-round.  Still, the flavor and quality of oranges are strikingly different during the off season from their juiciness and sweetness during the peak season. 

Years ago we didn’t benefit from the superstores’ presence and we, Romanians, were looking forward to an exotic and citrus diet during the cold winter days.  For us, oranges and bananas are considered winter fruits.  I remember how as a child my parents would take me to kindergarten to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him a poem in order to receive a well-deserved and impatiently awaited small bag with an orange and banana inside.  And there was always the traditional red and blue bag with a picture of a smiling Santa on it filled with oranges and bananas carefully placed under the Christmas tree.  That was a Christmas gift on its own, always appreciated and loved.          

Back in the days you would rarely waste oranges by turning them into cakes.  Today, things have changed and, at least in Romania, making an orange cake is thought as different and exotic.  This particular orange cake is all about oranges.  The orange is the ultimate star of this harmoniously-balanced, delicious cake.  The cake is moist, dense, surprisingly light and bursting with orange flavor.  Not to mention that the colorful specks of orange zest dispersed throughout give it a kick and make every bite bright and citrusy.  Let’s not forget about the sweet lemony orange syrup spread all over the top.  At first, I thought that the sauce would be too much – that is, too much orange.  But it’s not.  It actually makes the cake even better because it acts almost as an orange jam.  Yummy…  And it gives it a shiny top.  What you’ll end up doing is drag each slice of cake through the sauce before every bite.  And this lovely union of orange cake and orange sauce will be positively improved by paring it with a nice cup of coffee or tea.  Try it!

Orange Cake
Adapted from Today’s Woman Magazine

Serves: 12+ servings


·         Butter and flour for the pan
·         150 ml (2/3 cup) orange juice
·         4 eggs
·         300 grams granulated sugar
·         400 grams all-purpose flour
·         2 teaspoons baking powder
·         Orange zest from 1 large orange
·         Zest from 1 lemon
·         250 ml (1 cup) orange juice
·         2 Tablespoons honey


Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Generously butter and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.  Set aside. 

Using an electric hand mixer, whip the egg whites and 100 grams of sugar on medium-high speed in a large bowl until medium-firm peaks form.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and the rest of the granulated sugar.  Gradually add the orange juice and the flour.  At the end, add the baking powder and the orange zest.  Carefully fold the egg whites into the mixture. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Don’t open the oven for the first 20 minutes.  Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes.  Invert it on a platter and cool completely. 

For the sauce: 

In a small saucepan, combine the orange juice, lemon zest and honey.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture is of syrup consistency, about 10-12 minutes.  Pour the sauce over the orange cake. 

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

March 13, 2012

Farewell Alfred

It’s time to say goodbye to Alfred.  It’s so hard to let go and my heart is so heavy, but I know I have to do it.  I postponed it for far too long and things are still not improving.  Before I get into more depressing details, I’ll spare you the pain and anxiety of the unknown and tell you that Alfred is our bamboo potted plant. 

A friend of mine gave me Alfred as a birthday present in my freshman year in college.  At first, I was very excited and happy with the bamboo.  I even gave it a real name, Alfred.  However, the excitement diminished when it hit me that I would have to take care of this thing, a thought that was terrifying to say the least.  I was actually proud of myself for keeping it alive for five years especially since I just don’t do well with potted plants.  But Alfred was doing quite well – it was green, leafy and healthy before its unexpected and irreversible decline.  It was like it got the five years itch and started to bail out on me.  It turned yellow, lost its leaves, and its poor skeleton stems were invaded by these horrifying black dots.  Truth be told, my Alfred has been looking anemically pale and quite depressed for more than a year now.      

Frankly, I don’t really know what else I could do for Alfred.  I watered it, I kept it in and out of sunlight, cut off its dead leaves, changed its pebbles, added more pebbles, changed its soil, changed its pot, fed it fancy plant food that cost a small fortune.  So, after so many attempts you would think that it came back to life and flourished like there’s no tomorrow.  But no, it became weaker and weaker and now it looks deader than ever.  The sad thing is that a so-called plant expert at Home Depot told me once that it’s virtually impossible to kill a bamboo.  Well, I think that I managed the unmanageable and killed mine.  I just don’t think that potted plants agree with me.  C’est la vie… you can’t win’em all.  And now I have to let it go!

So, in Alfred’s loving memory, I decided to make a vegetarian stew and share it with you and all of you, who experienced difficulties raising potted plants.  I hope someone can understand my frustration.  The Rice and Vegetable Stew is my all-time favorite vegetarian dish that my Grandma Vicki makes.  This is one of those simple and super easy things to make.  The funny thing about this recipe is that it calls for fresh tomatoes and I have to tell you that I don’t like raw tomatoes at all.  I love ketchup (in fact, I could eat tons of ketchup, and as a child I would add extra ketchup to pizza, spaghetti and anything that I thought would need ketchup), tomato paste, tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, and even tomato juice, but don’t give me fresh tomatoes.  I can’t explain why.  Sometimes I feel like celebrity chef Scott Conant, who can’t stand raw onions.  If you happen to compete on Chopped and he’s one of the judges, don’t give him raw onions – he’ll chop you! 

My relationship with fresh tomatoes is very limited and when I say limited, I mean it; I don’t even get near them.  On the other hand, Adrian loves tomatoes and sometimes I even forget to buy his San Marzano tomatoes that he loves so much.  But things change when I buy fresh tomatoes for this vegetable stew.  Then, I look for the best tomatoes out there.  I look at their color, their skin, their firmness, and I squeeze them gently to get an idea of how juicy they really are.  By the way, this is how you have to buy your tomatoes for this recipe.  Make sure they’re juicy!  

What I like most about this stew is how well the flavors blend and work together.  The sweetness of the pepper and the onions together with the sourness and juiciness of the tomatoes form a welcoming base for the rice, which adds body and texture to the mixture.  In the end, you’ll get the perfect balance of savory and sweet, and you’ll capture tasty bright flavors in a simple yet bold and brilliant dish.

Ghiveci – Rice and Vegetable Stew
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Serves: 4 servings


·         Vegetable oil
·         2 medium onions, julienned
·         1 large yellow pepper, chopped
·         5 medium tomatoes
·         Salt
·         1 ½  – 2 Tablespoons sugar
·         ½ cup white rice


Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Add the tomatoes and leave them in boiling water for a couple of minutes until the skin becomes soft.  Take the tomatoes out, peel them and chop them.  Set them aside. 

In a medium pan, heat up 4 Tablespoons of oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and season with salt.  Cook the onions until translucent, about 7-8 minutes.  Add the yellow pepper and stir.  Cook together with the onions, about 7-8 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and their juices.  Season with more salt and stir well.  Bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and add the sugar.  Simmer for 30-40 minutes until the liquid has reduced and the stew has thickened.  Season with more salt and sugar to taste to obtain a perfect balance between sweet and sour.

While the vegetables cook down, in a medium saucepan, heat up 2 Tablespoons of oil over high heat.  Add the rice and 2 cups of water.  Season with salt.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked.  When the rice is cooked, cover with a lid for 5 minutes. 

Add the rice to the vegetable stew and stir well over low heat and cook together for 5 minutes.  Season to taste.  Serve with egg omelette.  

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)    

March 6, 2012

Victoria’s victorious!

First things first: I have to tell you how beyond excited I am that Meryl Streep has won the Oscar for Best Actress after thirty years!!!  What an amazing accomplishment!  When Colin Firth said her name at the Oscars I jumped out of my seat and started screaming in delight as if I were the one winning the Oscar.  Again – congratulations to Meryl Streep!

We were in Florida to visit our dear friends Traian and Anda not so long ago, but we’d go back in a heartbeat.  The clear cloudless sky, the deep blue ocean, the hot weather and the always green palm trees make you want to stay in the Sunshine State all year long.  Alright, perhaps the agonizing humidity during the summertime might make you move to the North for a couple of months, but that’s it.  You just want to soak up the hot sun and drag your feet through the warm grainier white sand while listening to the beautiful calming sound of the waves that build themselves until they vanish onto the shore. 


I know that Florida is a big state, so I’ll narrow it down and tell you that we were in Palm Beach.  Not a bad location for our first time in the state of the orange blossom.  And the best part was that we got to explore the surroundings by foot.  We walked around; saw little lizards and other small reptiles roaming around (by the way, I hate reptiles, so I was grabbing and crawling onto Adrian every time I saw one); walked over a draw bridge, admired the pelicans, and discovered local restaurants specialized in foreign cuisines. 

Strolling around Palm Beach we came across a tiny Peruvian restaurant in a strip mall.  To be honest, I felt like Guy Fieri in Diners, Drive-ins and Dives when he discovers true gems in unexpected places.  This is what Victoria’s is, a hidden treasure buried in the middle of a forgotten strip mall across from the Post Office in Lantana, FL.  It’s easy to overlook but it’s a true gem if discovered.  In a tiny place, with no more than ten tables, cozy ambiance and rustic décor, Victoria’s offers blissful traditional Peruvian cuisine.  I have to say that I don’t know much about Peruvian food.  All I know is from what Tom and Louise experienced while in Peru at Machu Picchu a couple of years ago.  Apparently, Peruvians, who live in the Andes, eat a lot of purple potatoes, corn and guinea pig.  Well, we didn’t find guinea pig at Victoria’s but we did find a lot of superb dishes to introduce us to the Peruvian gastronomy.  And after eating there once, we went back the next day.

This is what we ordered at Victoria’s:

-          Anticuchos
-          Chupe De Camarones
-          Ceviche Mixto
-          Arroz Con Mariscos
-          Lomito Saltado

I know that the Spanish names don’t say much, so let me clarify.  Anticuchos are marinated chunks of beef heart.  At first, they look just like shish kabob, skewered and grilled.  But it’s beef… heart!  Growing up in Romania, we’re used to eating offal, and I have to say that this beef heart was outstanding!  The heart was tender and juicy, and very well complemented by the grilled sweet potatoes and corn.  Not to mention that it’s a very generous portion for an appetizer.


However, if your heart can’t take more heart, I would recommend the Chupe De Camarones, which is a rich Peruvian style shrimp bisque.  Another huge hit!  First of all, this soup reminds me of our Romanian way of serving soup in gigantic bowls, which make you want to rub your tummy and take a nap after you’re done.  Although, this soup is listed under the soup section in the menu, it can easily be considered a full meal and you’ll definitely feel satisfied after a bowl…huge bowl of shrimp bisque.  What’s most important is how unbelievably delicious this soup is!  It’s creamy, spicy, filled with large shrimp, which stare at you with their big black eyes, corn, green peas, rice, potatoes, and a poached egg that makes the soup even smoother. 

If you’re looking for a masterpiece for your main course, try the amazing Ceviche Mixto.  This traditional dish of fresh fish and seafood cured in lime juice is out of this world!  The bright flavors pop in your mouth; the red onions add texture, and the corn and sweet potatoes bring sweetness and color to this perfect marriage.  By the way, isn’t this the biggest corn you’ve ever seen?  It is for me.  Also, don’t forget to ask for a spoon; you don’t want to leave that tasty broth on the plate.      

The Arroz Con Mariscos, or mixed seafood and rice, is another successful dish on their menu.  The brilliant combination of seafood, golden rice, corn, green peas, roasted red peppers and crunchy red onions will have you ask for more.  It’s a light but filling main course.    

And let’s not forget about the Lomito Saltado.  This staple Peruvian dish is a winner.  The succulent beef strips go perfectly with the crunchy sweet red onions and juicy tomatoes over a bed of delicious shoestring fries. 

To cleanse your palate after a satisfying meal, treat yourself with this lemony soda, Inca Kola, which is considered to be a Peruvian icon

Or a sweet Peruvian rosé wine.

In the end, it was a memorable Peruvian experience that we hope to repeat as soon as possible! 

Restaurant Information:
Victoria’s Peruvian Cuisine
111 Third St.
Lantana, FL, 33462
Phone: (561) 588-9606

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